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August 14, 2000

Transaction Analysis

August 10-12, 2000

by Christina Kahrl

Beginning today, Transaction Analysis moves to a three-day-a-week schedule. Look for Chris Kahrl's wit and wisdom Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Baseball Prospectus.

ANAHEIM ANGELS

Activated LHP Kent Mercker from the DL; optioned OF/1B-R Chris Hatcher to Edmonton; placed RHP Mike Fyhrie on the 15-day DL (elbow inflammation). [8/11]

Purchased the contract of RHP Eric Weaver from Edmonton. [8/12]

There's really nothing for me to add to the spectacle of Kent Mercker's personal courage. None of us walk in his shoes, and this is clearly a guy who has made a good living in baseball. There would have been no dishonor in choosing to walk away now.

Mercker's example is one we should keep in mind when we hear some diatribe against pampered athletes. Maybe he is one and maybe he isn't, but like a lot of his peers, it looks like he also happens to love playing the game.

Mercker's return comes on the heels of the bad news that Jarrod Washburn has a broken shoulder blade and may not pitch again for the rest of the season. There's some speculation that if he healed quickly he could pitch in September, but there isn't an awful lot at stake for the Angels. Washburn should walk into next spring with a clear shot at the Opening Day assignment.

In his absence, Mercker will only temporarily fill one slot. Chances are that he'll get bumped once Seth Etherton is off the disabled list and once Brian Cooper gets recalled. Etherton's DL stint doesn't really end until August 20, which means Cooper should be recalled for the start on Saturday afternoon in Yankee Stadium on the 19, the next time the Angels need a fifth starter.

Increasingly, you have to ask who's left among the Angels' relievers. Having already lost one of the league's best relievers, Al Levine, and then Troy Percival, losing Mike Fyhrie when he's been outstanding in long relief is tough. Maybe Mike Scioscia works some of the same magic he did with Levine and Fyhrie with journeyman Eric Weaver, but more likely, the Angels are forced to start counting on Lou Pote to throw some high-leverage innings. That shouldn't kill them, and even with the losses, they've still got a good left-handed situation reliever in Mike Holtz, a good long reliever in Mark Petkovsek and Shiggy Hasegawa in the closer's role.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Signed RHP Darren Holmes to a minor-league contract. [8/11]

Ugh. While not technically a fourth team for him to be signed by this year, it still looks like one too many. This is a lot uglier than Steve Carlton's 1986, and uglier still if the Snakes have to count on him.

Of course, one well-pitched appearance in a critical game in September and he'll earn a shot at John Patterson 1993 fame for coming through in one key moment in a great playoff race. Sure, I'm certain some traditionalists are cringing at a comparison between the last "real"playoff season and the current wild-card setup, but as far as I'm concerned, we're still talking about a shot at the World Series.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES

Recalled 2B-R Jerry Hairston from Rochester; optioned IF-L Ivanon Coffie to Rochester; placed RHP Alan Mills on the 15-day DL, retroactive to 8/5 (shoulder inflammation); recalled RHP Lesli Brea from Bowie (Double-A). [8/11]

Here's the Orioles' predicament in a nutshell: call up one of the guys from the deadline deals to prove they accomplished something while also calling up their homegrown prospect who should have been up a lot sooner.

Jerry Hairston really deserved a shot earlier than now. While injuries probably pushed his return to the majors back by a good month or two, with this organization, you can never be too certain, even about the apparently good ideas. Hairston was having another fine year at Rochester, hitting .294/.392/.438. Putting him on the field should be a major improvement on defense, and happily, Mike Hargrove has immediately jumped to experimenting with Delino DeShields in center field. While that will lead to a few ugly gaffes early on, the O's need to sort out right now whether or not they can use DeShields as a Tony Phillips-style utility player in case they can't trade him during the offseason.

Calling up Lesli Brea is a waste of time. He's 21 and hasn't yet started dominating the Eastern League, a relatively good environment for pitchers to make the jump to Double-A. Anybody with a 70-to-89 walk to strikeout rate in 106 innings has problems, and Brea didn't flash much velocity in his debut against the Royals. Better they bump Pat Rapp for somebody like Josh Towers or even Rick Krivda while also keeping Jason Johnson and Jose Mercedes in the rotation, rather than giving Brea one of those grisly "make the organization look bad" callups.

Throw these two moves in with the decision to demote Ivanon Coffie in favor of keeping an old utility infielder who can't hit or play shortstop (Mark Lewis) and a guy who'd probably be more handy for the Philadelphia 76ers (tall tools goof and second-round NBA pick Ryan Minor). To put it another way, if Cal Ripken doesn't play again this year, looking at Minor and Lewis isn't going to tell the Orioles something they don't already know, while Coffie could end up being a very handy utilityman in relatively short order. The Orioles really need to treat the last month and a half of the season as a way to start an early tip sheet for their winter shopping list, both in trade and for free agents.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Optioned RHP Aaron Myette to Charlotte; recalled RHP Rocky Biddle from Birmingham (Double-A). [8/10]

For those who have forgotten about Rocky Biddle, he was arguably the star pitcher for a good Long Beach State team in 1997. Biddle was picked in the first round as a compensatory first-rounder to make up for losing Bobby Seay in 1996. It's no doubt slightly amusing to see Biddle up already despite missing all of 1999 to an elbow injury while Seay struggles in the Southern League, but Biddle was a college pitcher and Seay a high-school pitcher. Like many current survivors of Tommy John surgery, Biddle says he throws harder now than he did before, and he threw pretty hard in college.

While Biddle no doubt gets added to the list of White Sox rookie pitchers, he's already 24, pitched for a major program in college and has survived a potentially career-altering surgery. Given that range of experience, it seems silly to compare him to somebody like Jon Garland, who's not yet 21. Of course, a successful college career didn't help Kip Wells straighten out his control problems.

As long as the Sox are carrying 12 pitchers and three rookie starters, they could alternate Biddle, Garland and Mark Buehrle through the fourth and fifth slots of the rotation as a way to give them longer rest. They could also plug them into middle-relief innings from time to time. The Sox are entering a stretch against some of the weakest teams in the AL, so better to let all three of them and Lorenzo Barcelo cut their teeth now.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Signed DH-B Dave Hollins to a minor-league contract. [8/11]

Indians' fans should not hold their breaths, as the man so tightly wound some thought he'd strangle puppies if it would stop a slump seems to have been signed to help the Bisons in their quest for the Triple-A World Series. If you're harboring any hopes for Hollins's future, keep in mind that he's only the replacement at Buffalo for Chan Perry and Bill Selby, who the Indians actually need right now. For Hollins, this would be his shot at trivia, as he'd have a chance to appear in the TAWS in consecutive seasons.

HOUSTON ASTROS

Optioned RHP Tony McKnight to New Orleans; recalled RHP Jose Cabrera from New Orleans. [8/10]

Tony McKnight was only up for a spot start, and Jose Cabrera is back after pitching well in New Orleans, halving his 6.43 major-league ERA with a 2.94 mark for the Zephyrs. The Astros need to see if Cabrera can do anything over the next seven weeks or so; if he can't, he'll be taken off the 40-man roster for members of the 1998 draft class.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Acquired SS-B Wilson Delgado from the Yankees for SS-R Nick Ortiz; optioned OF-L Scott Pose and LHP Tim Byrdak to Omaha; purchased the contract of LHP Paul Spoljaric from Omaha. [8/11]

Call me a wide-eyed optimist, but now that the Royals have Wilson Delgado as well as Jeff Reboulet and defensive whiz Luis Ordaz all available to play shortstop, wouldn't this be the perfect time to see if they could slip Rey Sanchez to a near-contender (the Blue Jays? the Dodgers?) through waivers? I mean, at least now that they've cut the cord and finally pried Scott Pose from Tony Muser's age-friendly palsies, why not try to put that roster spot to better use, like getting Carlos Beltran back or calling up Dee Brown?

Meanwhile, the Royals have finally returned to the same spot they were in on Opening Day. Tim Byrdak might be a swell organizational soldier, but he's continued to flop as the team's situational left-hander. Paul Spoljaric has pitched well in relief (a 3.06 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 47 Omaha innings), as he usually does, and he is left-handed, but he's not a situational pitcher. If Muser can get that straight, and just use Spoljaric as a relief pitcher who just incidentally throws left-handed, and not as the man he needs to get Carlos Delgado, he'll have a fine pitcher on his hands.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Optioned RHP Kane Davis to Indianapolis; recalled SS-B Santiago Perez from Indianapolis. [8/12]

The Brewers' problem continues to go by one name: Marquis Grissom. As long as Grissom is asked to play, he will. The Brewers would be better off with Jose Hernandez in center field and Santiago Perez at shortstop, at least until Mark Loretta returns. But in addition to having to pay and play Grissom, they're also banged up in the infield, so that not only are they missing Loretta, but Ronnie Belliard is wearing out after months of looking like the hardest-working man in baseball.

Belliard has been playing so hard I've started watching games using "the Belliard test", which is just my way of trying to decide who looks like the best player on the field, while trying to turn a blind eye to everything else I usually know. Generally speaking, my impression is that Brewers fans appreciate him, because it's one of those things you really do need to see to say, "that guy's a ballplayer". He's worth the price of admission, and on this club this year, not a lot else has been.

MONTREAL EXPOS

Recalled C-R Michael Barrett from Ottawa. [8/10]

Optioned C-L Brian Schneider to Ottawa; recalled CF-B Milton Bradley from Ottawa; acquired LHP Shane Spencer from the Mariners as the first of two PsTBNL in the Chris Widger trade. [8/11]

As expected, Michael Barrett is up to catch and play everyday. It was always going to be for the best, especially since Barrett doesn't look like the kind of offensive prospect Craig Biggio was. Barrett is going to be a fine major-league catcher, and that's probably the best career path he was going to have.

More implausibly, le Webster gets a stay of execution. I don't know if Donald Sutherland interceded or what, but that's just silly. Ottawa is in last place, and the Expos are equally likely to finish in last as in third in the NL East. Better that they just start letting Brian Schneider work with guys he's going to be catching next year, I say.

Schneider was probably of like mind, and apparently wasn't pleased with going back to Ottawa to play in front of smaller crowds than attend a good American Legion game. He can probably draw the appropriate lesson from Milton Bradley's recall after being punitively demoted ten days prior for loafing. Maybe they'll only keep Lenny Webster through this next homestand for those extra dozen fannies he puts in the seats, because Schneider can count on being back for September.

NEW YORK YANKEES

Agreed to terms on a three-year contract extension with RHP Roger Clemens; placed LHP Allen Watson on the 15-day DL (sore shoulder); recalled LHP Randy Choate from Columbus; acquired SS-R Nick Ortiz from the Royals for SS-B Wilson Delgado. [8/11]

Anyone else remember the rash of "Nobody else is ever going to win 300 games" articles after Nolan Ryan retired? Roger Clemens really looks like he's going to do it, Greg Maddux probably will, too, and I wouldn't bet against Randy Johnson.

I guess we can have fun wondering if Clemens is all the more likely to wear a Yankees cap to the Hall of Fame after he gets that 300th win in pinstripes. It would probably be the only kind of revenge White Sox fans would have on Red Sox fans for Carlton Fisk's ungraciousness towards the team and the fans that were generous enough to let him haul his used-up old bones past Bob Boone for the games caught record. While that may sound mean-spirited, White Sox fans usually take their vengeance extra bitter, like their Old Style.

The Yankees will not miss Allen Watson now that he's out for the rest of the season. After being a key bit player last year, he was pitching badly enough to be within spitting distance of Darren Holmes for the title of worst major-league reliever. Randy Choate may not be Dave Righetti, but he's a perfectly useful left-handed reliever.

Nicky Ortiz is as good as a 27-year-old minor-league veteran with his sixth organization in three years can be. Really. He's a pretty slick fielder at shortstop and he managed to get into the Double-A All-Star game this year. For Wichita, he was hitting .293/.378/.432. Hey, if Clay Bellinger can dream, so can Nicky Ortiz.

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

Activated RHP Omar Olivares from the DL; placed RHP T.J. Mathews on the 15-day DL (elbow tendinitis). [8/12]

While all of the initial speculation is that the A's should bump Mark Mulder from the rotation to get Omar Olivares back into it, there are a couple of other things to consider.

First, while Mulder has gotten his ears pinned back of late, he hasn't really pitched all that much worse than Kevin Appier, and both of them have been much better on the season than Olivares. Second, maybe losing T.J. Mathews is all the hint the A's need. While adding Jim Mecir is swell (I'll set aside the whole issue of Jesus Colome's future for the time being) and Jeff Tam is coming down from his tremendous first half, the A's bullpen has been struggling to find someone capable of giving the team good two- or three-inning outings in middle relief. Mathews had been a disaster for most of the year and Doug Jones looks like he needs to be reserved for lost causes and unblowable leads.

The A's need to find someone to fill the same sort of role Brett Tomko has done such a tremedous job of playing for the Mariners over the last month. Why not Olivares? If I remember correctly, Olivares has a mutual option with the club, so if he really doesn't like doing something that's best for the team this year, he can always opt out after the season.

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

Placed RHP Francisco Cordova on the 15-day DL (bone spur - elbow) and LHP Chris Peters on the 15-day DL (synovitis -elbow); activated RHP Todd Ritchie from the DL; recalled LHP Jeff Wallace from Nashville. [8/11]

So now it looks like Francisco Cordova is out for the season, after the Pirates had already lost Jason Schmidt for the year. I've sung Gene Lamont's praises in the past, but a project for this winter is going to be to take a long, hard look at his White Sox teams and his Pirates teams to see if there was reason for fear. I've never been a big believer in the wasted greatness of Jason Bere, and while Lamont hardly deserves comparison to Jim Leyland, it'll be worthwhile to tally up his ledger with his pitching staffs.

Meanwhile, Todd Ritchie will join a rotation of Kris Benson, Jose Silva, Jimmy Anderson and, temporarily, Dan Serafini, with Bronson Arroyo bumped into middle relief.

Losing Chris Peters is merely a bad break in what's been a season of bad breaks for him; he's expected back shortly. It's a sign of how weak the Bucs' pen has been that he was their third-best reliever left on the squad after Josias Manzanillo and Scott Sauerbeck. Jason Christiansen is off being shoehorned by Tony LaRussa into the Rick Honeycutt role he's overqualified for, and Silva looks like he's finally turning into the Blue Jays pitching prospect who could, except that he's doing it in the rotation now.

Chris Kahrl can be reached at ckahrl@baseballprospectus.com.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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